A recent conversation amongst friends revealed a huge void that liespreviously undetected, dividing us right down the middle. We are split most definitely into two distinct categories: those who have not been to Bill’s Produce Store and Cafe and those lucky few who have. The few who have visited this Brighton institution (myself, fortunately, included), will enthuse at any given opportunity about the wonders that lie in wait behind the big black walls on North Street. Step into the converted warehouse and you are greeted at once by the sight of many long, wooden tables that wouldn’t look out of place in a farm house, and floor to very-high-ceiling shelves stacked with all manner of local produce. Baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables line the perimeter of the cafe, coloured raffia hangs in long strips from the ceiling, and large blackboards tell you in the unmistakeable Bill’s font all about the delicious dishes they have to tempt you with today.
You will also, probably, be greeted by the sight of a lot of people. Bill’s has come a long way since its humble origins as a fruit and veg stall in Lewes. When the October 2000 floods threatened to ruin Bill Collison’s livelihood, his business rose phoenix-like out of the ashes and he opened his first cafe in Lewes in 2001.
Bill’s won the Observer Food Monthly Best Newcomer 2006, and as well as the cafe in Brighton, they have recently opened up shop in Covent Garden, Reading and Cambridge.
It is no wonder that Bill’s is so popular. Bill Collison says, “We set out to make a place that was colourful and exuberant, with dishes that were really tasty but also made you smile, that put everyday ingredients together and gave everyone lots of ideas to take home with them”. As well as this, with a philosophy based around local, seasonal cooking, the food served here is ethical as well as delicious. Bill’s serve lunch and dinner, as well as fantastic cakes adorned with fresh flowers, but what they are most famous for are their breakfasts.
My first visit to Bill’s was on a frosty November morning. I ate warm, doughy buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and toasted seeds whilst the friendly waiting staff brought us hot water bottles to take the chill off the day. My recent favourite is their take on Eggs Benedict – two perfectly poached free-range eggs on toasted chewy brown bread, in hollandaise sauce. But if you are starving, you cannot beat the famous Bill’s breakfast – local pork sausages, streaky bacon, fried organic mushrooms and tomatoes, a poached egg, and lots of lovely fresh toast. It is to die for. As well as the extensive menu, the produce store is second-to-none at representing the best food Sussex has to offer.
While it is a bit pricey for an average weekly student shop, there is no better place to buy little treats or presents. The homemade biscuits and jams are especially hard to resist and they also sell specialist teas, sauces and oils as well as Italian pasta which looks incredible and a whole host of other foodie things.
If you are passing through North Street, especially while you still have a chunk of your loan left, Bill’s is well worth a visit. You can then become one of those who rave endlessly about this fantastic Brighton restaurant to everyone you know.